Forbes Field Outfield Wall
Forbes Field was the home of the Pittsburgh Pirates from 1909 to 1970. Thanks to the efforts of baseball fans and advocates of historical preservation, part of the former outfield wall remains and can be seen next to this building on Roberto Clemente Drive. Although the stadium was also home to the Pittsburgh Steelers and the University of Pittsburgh, Forbes Field is best known as the home of the Pirates.
Backstory and Context
The Pittsburgh Pirates were headed towards the 1909 World Series after winning 110 games for the season. However, their field along the Alleghany River, Exposition Park, frequently flooded and was inadequate to host the Major-League Baseball championship game. The owner of the Pirates, Barney Dreyfus, was in search of land to build a new field for the team and the city. With the help of steel magnate Andrew Carnegie, Dreyfus purchased seven acres of land from Mary Schenley three miles from downtown Pittsburgh. Construction began on March 1, 1909, becoming one of the first steel and concrete ballparks in the country. The park was named Forbes Field after the French and Indian War hero General John Forbes.
On June 30, 1909, 30,388 fans gathered into the park built to hold 25,00 people to watch the first Pittsburgh Pirates game at the new field. Although the Pirates lost to the Chicago Cubs 3-2, this was only the beginning of baseball history for Pittsburgh. Forbes Field was known as one of the hardest ballparks to hit a home run because of the cages at the three light towers in the outfield that would ricochet the ball back into the field. The field continued to gather many visitors, forcing a $75,000 expansion in 1925 to raise the capacity to 35,000 people. The largest crowd in Forbes Field history was on September 23, 1956, when 44,932 people came to watch the Pirates take on the Brooklyn Dodgers.
In preparation for the future expansion of the University of Pittsburgh, the college purchased the field for $2 million in November of 1958. Over the years, Forbes Field aged and started to deteriorate which resulted in the construction of a new multi-purpose field called Three Rivers Stadium. Forbes Field was the site of 60 years of baseball history. The Pittsburgh Pirates won four World Series at the park in 1909, 1925, 1927, and 1960. Along with the Pirates, the field was also home to the Pittsburgh Panthers, Pittsburgh Steelers, and the Homestead Grays from 1909 through 1971. The most memorable event in the park was Bill Mazeroski’s game-winning home run in the bottom of the ninth inning at the seventh and final game in the 1960 World Series. It was known as “the shot heard around the ‘Burgh,” causing a chaotic celebration in the streets of Pittsburgh.
The final game in Forbes Field was ironically played on June 28, 1970, by the Pittsburgh Pirates and Chicago Cubs. The Forbes Fied baseball history made a full circle as the team played the Cubs just as they did on opening day sixty years prior. However, the outcome of the game on that sunny Sunday afternoon was in the Pirates favor. They won the game over the Cubs 4-1. Forbes Field was demolished on July 1, 1971, leaving behind the left outfield brick wall in tribute to the field itself and Mazeroski’s home run that soared over it in 1960. The University of Pittsburgh’s library and dorms are located on the land where the field was located. The original home plate from Forbes Field is located at the library at the university.
Forbes Field was home to the Pittsburgh Pirates, Pittsburgh Steelers, the University of Pittsburgh, and the Homestead Grays of the Negro Leagues in the era of segregation. The park was named after British General John Forbes who commanded armies of colonists in the French and Indian War. General Forbes is credited with naming the city of Pittsburgh in the late 1700’s. This stadium hosted three World Series where the Pirates won championships: 1909, 1925 and 1960.
Forbes Field opened in 1909 with the Pittsburgh Pirates hosting the Chicago Cubs and closed in 1970 with the Pirates once again playing the Cubs. Like many historic sporting venues, Forbes Field was home to historic moments such as Bill Mazeroski's home run in the bottom of the 9th inning of game seven of the 1960 World Series Champions. For African American residents of the city, the stadium served as a place to watch both the Pirates without segregated seating and a place to cheer their team, the legendary Homestead Grays of the Negro Leagues.
During his time as owner, William Benswanger often spoke in favor of having African American players on his team and even held one tryout prior to the Dodgers signing Jackie Robinson. In the 1960’s, Gene Baker was the first African American manager. Although it did not occur at Forbes Field, the Pittsburgh Pirates became the first major league baseball team to start a game with an entirely non-white starting lineup.
King, Nellie. Forbes Field (1909-1970). Brookline Connection. Accessed April 20, 2017. http://www.brooklineconnection.com/history/Facts/ForbesField.html.